Rahman is one of few artistes who can prompt an exodus of sorts like this. In what was Hyderabad's biggest outing in recent times, a little under half a lakh people - cutting across age and cultural tastes - drove out at least 30 kilometres from the city, to the Jai Ho concert at GMR arena, on the evening of the 24th of October.
Statistics of disposable income looked like they had to be re-done - tickets were priced from Rs. 500 to Rs. 20,000 (though prices were slashed a few days prior to the show), but that didn't deter the thousands, many of whom were students, to turn up. Indeed, when Rahman plays live, it is the closest that several people can get to witnessing a Bollywood concert, a Sufi concert, a Carnatic recital, a fusion music concert, a rock concert, or a rap concert.
So how much of each was Jai Ho? Well, Rahman's recent work dominated the evening, much like the ensemble of singers, who were mostly contemporary. Some of his long-time regulars were there, though - including Sivamani on the drums, Keith Peters on the guitar, and Naveen on the flute.
Then, there was a little too much emphasis on Western-inspired numbers, and less of the quintessentially Indian was played. Lagaan was completely missing, for example. There was a lot of Delhi 6, Blaaze's rap, and to the glee of many, Slumdog. But what did send the crowd into raptures was Koncham Nilavu (Koncham Nippu from Donga Donga, for us here in AP), Kannanule (Bombay) and Pudhu Vellai (the Tamil version of Paruvam Vaanaga, from Roja) and Snehituda (Sakhi).
There was the electrifying effect of being about a 100 metres away from the stars in flesh and blood, but as is the case with concerts of film music, little mathematical accuracy in the renditions, with artistes grabbing their opportunity to experiment. And it's not a bad thing always. Vijay Prakash went all out when he belted out Pudhu Vellai and O Cheliya (Premikudu), and so did Shweta Pandit, with Mangta Hai Kya (Rangeela).
Some of Rahman's best work lies in his recent Sufi numbers - Arziyan (Delhi 6) and Khwaja Mere Khwaja (Jodhaa Akbar) - and when they were performed in the style of a traditional recital, it did add to the appreciative nods among the elderly in the audience, who performers otherwise lost with Fiqrana (Blue), Jana Gana Mana (Yuva), Khalbali (Rang De Basanti), Taxi Taxi (Sakkarakatti) and Blaaze's rap.
Sufi sure added to the profundity of the concert, but there were 2 sobering videos that amplified it - a tribute to YSR, and Vellai Pookal (a heart-stopping melody from Kannathil Muthamittal, Amrutha in Telugu).
Javed Ali and Rashid Ali pitched in with some recent Bollywood romantic hits, Jashn-e-Bahaara (Jodhaa Akbar) and Kabhi Kabhi Aditi (Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na), respectively. Sadhana Sargam's Snehituda is a regular at his concerts, and she caused as much frenzy as Rahman did when he crooned the iconic Mustafa Mustafa.
Neeti Mohan, Shweta Pandit, Blaaze and Benny Dayal let their hair down in their performer avatars. The team on stage cavorted with some fusion music as well, with the flute, the guitar, the piano (played by the maestro himself) and the sitar. And did we mention Sivamani, whose range of percussion instruments made his stage presence a phenomenon all by itself?
The pyrotechnics were probably best enjoyed by those who sat close enough to put their feet up on stage, but the screens quite made up for those who'd had enough of craning their necks. Post-event parking glitches trapped many inside the airport complex for an hour, and this was among the forgettable memories of the night.
Rahman is a musical wizard who must be credited with several accomplishments. After taking over from Ilayaraja in the field of multi-track innovation, he brought back Indian classical music and introduced lesser-known foreign genres - to an industry that was increasingly becoming a factory producing less music and more titillation. To the common man, that meant redefining the concept of sound in film music. And he infused grace and passion into an otherwise stodgy concept called patriotism (think Roja and the Bharat Bala productions).
Jai Ho's become his signature, now, but there was a time when Rahman was busy being pure Rahman - satisfying both masses and purists - and not asking Pappu To Dance. The Jai Ho series is a celebration of that rare wedlock between art and commerce. Here's hoping A R Rahman understands that the marriage remains romantic for as long as the latter of the 2 partners does not get drunk on power.
Because it would be a pity if he's ultimately going to be known to the world for just Ringa Ringa, and not for Bombay.